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Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatment: Learn Everything You Need to Know

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder occurs when an individual’s depressive episodes correlate with the seasons of the year. For example, someone may notice that they struggle with depressive symptoms in the fall or winter, and have no symptoms in the spring and summer. Or vice versa.

Seasonal affective disorder is known to impact more women than men in the United States (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.).

When we look at how the American Psychological Association categorizes seasonal affective disorder, some may be surprised to learn that it is actually classified as major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern specifier (American Psychological Association, 2013).

Do you think you’re experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder? There is hope for help. Find a mental health professional that treats Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

When we look at the symptoms for major depressive disorder, it is important to understand that everyone’s symptoms will look different. There is no “cookie-cutter” experience when it comes to major depressive disorder. According to the American Psychological Association, individuals who struggle with major depressive disorder live with at least 5 of the following symptoms in the same two-week period:

  • Having a depressed mood most of the day, almost daily. This could be something they are aware of themselves, or has been observed by others
  • Having a markedly diminished interest in pleasurable activities and hobbies they previously enjoyed
  • Significant weight loss when not trying to lose weight, or a decrease in appetite
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Psychomotor agitation nearly every day
  • Loss of energy or fatigue
  • Feeling worthless, or having inappropriate guilt
  • Struggling to concentrate, or make decisions almost every day.
  • Recurrent thoughts about death, suicidal ideation without a plan, having a plan for suicide, or a suicide attempt

Winter-Pattern SAD Symptoms

For individuals who have Seasonal Affective disorder in the winter months, symptoms may include:

  • Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
  • Overeating, particularly with a craving for carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)

Summer-Pattern SAD Symptoms

For individuals who have Seasonal Affective disorder in the summer months, symptoms may include:

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Poor appetite, leading to weight loss
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Episodes of violent behavior

Major Depressive Disorder vs Seasonal Affective Disorder

The difference between major depressive disorder and major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern is that there has been a two-year period where the individual has struggled with their depressive symptoms during specific seasons of the year (American Psychological Association). The depressive symptoms can not be the result of situational concerns that are tied to the seasons such as unemployment in the winter (American Psychological Association, 2013). When the seasons change, individuals will find themselves not struggling with any depressive symptoms, or see a shift to struggling with mania or hypomania, depending on their other mental health concerns (American Psychological Association).

The National Institute on Mental Health has provided insight into the differences that we can see between individuals who struggle with seasonal affective disorder in the winter, compared to those who struggle in the spring.

Individuals who struggle in the winter may find themselves over sleeping, over eating, gaining weight, and withdrawing from social situations (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.)

Individuals who struggle in the spring may find themselves struggling to sleep, having a poor appetite, weight loss, feel restless and agitated, feel anxious, and have episodes of violent behavior (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.). 

What Risk Factors are Associated With Seasonal Affective Disorder?

There are a variety of factors that are believed to play a role in the development of seasonal affective disorder. For example, individuals who live in northern areas that have a reduced amount of daylight in the winter are at a higher risk of developing seasonal affective disorder than individuals who live in the southern portions of the country (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.).

We also know that seasonal affective disorder is more common in individuals who struggle with other mental health concerns such bipolar disorder (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d). Other common mental health concerns seen among individuals with seasonal affective disorder include ADHD, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and panic disorder (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.). 

Get Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatment 

When seeking Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatment, it’s important to find a mental health professional that has experience helping individuals overcome this depressive disorder. Some common treatments include:

  • Light therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Antidepressant medications
  • Vitamin D

Do you think you’re experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder? There is hope for help. Find a mental health professional that treats Seasonal Affective Disorder.



Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC
Author: Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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